5 Ways To Be A Good Support To A Friend With An Eating Disorder In College
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Health and Wellness

5 Ways To Be A Good Support To A Friend With An Eating Disorder In College

How to stand by the warriors fighting eating disorders.

5 Ways To Be A Good Support To A Friend With An Eating Disorder In College

I have suffered and have been treated for an eating disorder in the past year. After treatment, I realized how difficult it is to explain to someone on the outside of this mental illness what it is all about. I have compiled a list of five pieces of advice from my personal experiences to inform readers how to help a friend struggling with an eating disorder. Thank you to all of those who've stood by me as I've fought this devil and come back stronger on the other side.

1. Get informed

The best way to practice empathy to support a person with an eating disorder is to really understand what an eating disorder actually is. When you first discover what an eating disorder is, you are often misinformed and sometimes learn false and biased information. The source of an eating disorder often goes beyond the typical understanding. An eating disorder is a maladaptive coping mechanism that becomes an overwhelming mental illness.

Check out this website to learn basic information about each eating disorder or this website to hear different stories of people recovering from eating disorders.

2. Ask questions and be a good listener

Open communication is key to being supportive. Often times when you ask someone with an eating disorder how they are, their response will be “I’m fine.” Do not be discouraged or angry with the lack of a response. Most people with eating disorders do not necessarily know what emotion they are feeling and trying to process that is an arduous task for them. Your effort to create an open line of communication will make it easier when they are ready to talk.

3. Watch comparison talk when getting ready to go out

One of the hardest thing for a person with an eating disorder, beyond the actual eating, is body image. When your friend group is all getting ready to go out, the process of choosing an outfit that you feel good in, putting on makeup and getting your hair ready is already tough enough for someone who is not dealing with an eating disorder. Your friend group will ask each for their opinions and compare themselves to each other. If you can be conscious of comparison talk and self-criticisms, it will make a healthier environment for everyone.

4. It's OK to not know what to say

You never know how someone will interpret what you say. There are certain things that may be triggers or especially irritating for someone with an eating disorder. If you have an open relationship, ask them if there are specific things that are triggers. The best piece of advice I can give is to try to set up a signal for when your friend needs support and when they need space. If you find yourself irritated or in a fight about something insignificant, try to use a technique that Dr. Brene Brown talks about in her recent book "Rising Strong." Ask yourself “What is the most generous assumption I can make that this person is doing the best they can?” Eating disorders are irrational. The thought of not giving your body enough food or giving your body too much food is an irrational concept. If you can be as compassionate with your assumptions, the lack of understanding you have from the outside will not seem as significant.

Check out this talk about trust by Dr. Brene Brown on Super Soul Sunday Sessions. She speaks about how to maintain trust through being compassionate and hold boundaries. This can lead to less resentment on both parties.

5. Take care of yourself

One of the most difficult things is to be a support to someone struggling with mental illness. There is so much unknown with a mental illness that often times you are walking on eggshells. That can be extremely hard on you. When your friend sees you taking care of yourself, it makes it easier to follow your lead. It is so easy to prioritize your work, romance or friends before yourself. Try to make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep and giving yourself permission for down time.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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